Unfortunately, the 11th pick in the NFL draft has been one of the worst, historically speaking. That isn't to say the pick hasn't produced its fair share of stars -- what first round slot hasn't? -- but that the slot, relative to the slots around it, has produced less than one would expect. Take a look at the following table aggregating all draft picks in a given slot since the AFL/NFL merger:
As you can see, the 11th draft slot has produced comparably to the 14th draft slot, but significantly worse to the other adjacent slots. The 11th pick has produced fewer pro bowl seasons than any other pick in the 8-14 range, has produced less career adjusted value and starting seasons than any pick in 8-13 range, and lags significantly behind any previous picks in All Pro seasons.
So has pick eleven underperformed historically? Yes. Is it cursed? No. Though several busts like Aaron Maybin and Leodis McKelvin have been picked here in recent seasons, the past decade has actually produced pretty well: J.J. Watt, Anthony Davis, Patrick Willis, Jay Cutler, DeMarcus Ware, Ben Roethlisberger, Marcus Trufant, and Dwight Freeney (technically 11 drafts ago) should put any thought that the slot is cursed to bed. Hopefully the Chargers can continue the trend of recent success at this draft position.
Now lets take a look at the three best and three worst selections at slot eleven since the AFL/NFL merger, with an additional section devoted entirely to the absurd story of Russell Erxleben.
- Michael Irvin - WR - Dallas Cowboys - 1988 - Miami (FL)
Simply put: Michael Irvin is both an NCAA and NFL legend. After setting Miami records in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns, and helping lead the Hurricanes to the 1987 title, Irvin declared for the NFL draft. Interestingly, he was the final first round selection of the Schramm/Brandt/Landry trio in Dallas. While the Cowboys were absolutely putrid in his first few seasons there, he still managed to lead the NFC in yards-per-reception as a rookie in 1988. The rest is well known: Irvin was an integral part of three Cowboys Super Bowl victories, he had an NFL record eleven consecutive 100 yard performances in 1995 (which was recently broken by Calvin Johnson), and he was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2007. (His emotional Hall of Fame induction speech is worth watching if you have some free time). Had Irvin been a Charger, his receiving yards and reception totals would rank first in team history.
- Wilber Marshall - LB - Chicago Bears - 1984 - Florida
Wilber Marshall is well-known for several individual plays: this unbelievable hit he delivered to Eric Hipple in 1985 and his fumble return in the 1985 NFC Championship game (which Fox Chicago has deemed the most important play of that season for that epic '85 Bears team). After winning a Super Bowl in Chicago, Marshall moved on to the Redskins in a surprising move; in fact, when he left as a free agent in 1988 to become the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL, he was the first NFL free agent to change teams in eleven years. Marshall would be a significant contributor to the Redskins' 1991 Super Bowl title, as he had several key tackles and a sack in their Super Bowl XXVI victory over Buffalo. Marshall's career stat line is incredibly well-rounded for a LB: he eclipsed 100 tackles six times, recorded 45 sacks, intercepted 23 passes, and forced 24 fumbles over his twelve year career. His weighted career AV of 120 ranks 170th since 1950 according to Pro Football Reference, and his weighted AV in 1986 led the NFL.
- Ben Roethlisberger - QB - Pittsburgh Steelers - 2004 - Miami (OH)
Roethlisberger narrowly beat out J.J. Watt and DeMarcus Ware for the final "stars" slot for one reason: postseason success. Yes, he stunk (and was arguably the LVP) in Super Bowl XL and threw a pick sixin Super Bowl XLV that proved to be the difference in the game. But his 2009 postseason which culminated in a Super Bowl XLIII victory was nearly pristine: he turned the ball over just once (which was really just a tipped ball at the line), orchestrated a game-winning drive in the Super Bowl, and even added a nice pooch punt inside the ten against us. Additionally, there's no way the Steelers even get to Super Bowl XL without his 7/1 TD/INT ratio (and a rushing TD) in the conference playoffs. Despite the motorcycle incident, the multiple rape charge allegations (here and here and here), and possessing the aura of a genuine douche -- can I say that? -- Roethlisberger's accomplishments as a football player make his selection, from a football standpoint, a bonafide success.
- Ron Dayne - RB - New York Giants - 2000 - Wisconsin
I suspect most people here are familiar with the story of Ron Dayne. For those who aren't, I suggest watching this short highlight video before reading on. Ron Dayne, or the "Dayne Train", was the 1999 Heisman Trophy Winner and is the all-time leader in NCAA rushing. At 5'10" 250, Dayne made his name as a brute workhorse: he actually averaged over 300 carries a season in his four years at Wisconsin. After winning back-to-back Rose Bowl MVP awards, Dayne declared for the 2000 draft, where he was selected 11th by Jim Fassel and the New York Giants. Dayne joined Tiki Barber in a tandem that was referred to as "Thunder and Lightning", and initially had success: the Giants reached Super Bowl XXXV in Dayne's rookie season. However, in his four seasons with the Giants, Dayne never averaged more than four yards per carry and required removal on passing downs (as witnessed by the fact he caught just 23 passes over four seasons). After New York, Dayne made a short stop in Denver before joining the Houston Texans for one last hoorah. After running for a career high 773 yards in 2007, Ron Dayne never played again in the NFL after failing to make a roster in 2008. Dayne retired with a weighted career AV of 22, which is less than Ryan Mathews has already accrued in his career.
- Michael Booker - CB - Atlanta Falcons - 1997 - Nebraska
Rummaging the internet, there is not much to be found on Michael Booker. This much is certain, however: he was drafted 11th by Atlanta in 1997 after a star-studded career at Nebraska which included the Defensive MVP of the 1996 NCAA National Championship Game, he started at corner for Atlanta in Super Bowl XXXIII (but was in short zone coverage and not responsible for Rod Smith's 80 yard touchdown), and he started just 10 regular season games in his entire career. Also, according to SI, he ran a 4.44 40 yard dash with nearly a 40 inch vertical. And perhaps most applicable to those of us here in San Diego: Michael Booker graduated from El Camino High School in Oceanside. As previously mentioned, Booker's career was abrupt: after mysteriously disappearing from Falcons camp in 2000, Booker was waived and spent a short period of time in Tennessee before retiring. His weighted career AV is just 8, which is only a smidgen more than Larry English's.
- Shawn Knight - DE - New Orleans Saints - 1987 - BYU
Knight was an integral part of the Cougars' defense in the mid-80s, but was not an active member of their 1984 National Championship team as he sat out the season with a broken ankle. He was, however, a part of the '85 BYU team which suffered perhaps the most improbable loss in NCAA history when they fell to winless, 35 point underdog UTEP. Though Knight was drafted as a DE, he mostly played defensive tackle (in a 4-3) in college, across from All-American Jason Buck, which relegated Knight to be known as "the other tackle". (Buck was also selected in the 1987 draft though he went after Knight.) The Saints draft selection of Knight is a cautionary tale in player evaluations. Knight compiled 17 sacks as a senior while Buck faced double teams, and ran a 4.70 in front of scouts just prior to BYU's bowl game. What happened at that bowl game, however, changed everything for Knight: he busted his ankle again. The Saints didn't seem to care, as they selected him at pick 11 anyway. To make matters worse, Knight was a contract holdout for all of training camp...which was further compounded by a players' strike. Knight would eventually play for the Saints, starting ten games in 1987 without recording a tackle. He was promptly dealt to Denver, but didn't last there more than a season. Knight resurfaced in Phoenix, but that was it for him; he retired with a weighted career AV of just 3.
Russell Erxleben - K/P - New Orleans Saints - 1979 - Texas
This man deserves his own section.
Russell Erxleben is one of only a few place kickers / punters to be selected in the first round of an NFL draft. Although I would personally only consider that position in the first round if the guy (or girl, you never know) could routinely hit 70+ yarders or punt the ball out-of-bounds and inside the 10 from anywhere on the field, Erxleben certainly had the collegiate accolades to warrant a high selection. Erxleben set the NCAA record for longest field goal in 1977, nailing a 67-yarder against Rice which apparently had "another eight yards on it". (Note that the NCAA allowed the use of tees on place kicks up until 1990. Martin Gramatica’s 65 yarder in 1998 is regarded as the longest conventional field goal in NCAA history.) In addition to the renowned length of his field goal kicking, which had been described as sounding "like a gunshot", Erxleben was also a three-time All-American as a punter. Despite the high expectations, Erxleben was unquestionably a bust. After playing just six lackluster seasons in New Orleans, Erxleben was released. After a failed comeback attempt in 1988, he hung up his cleats for good.
That isn’t where Erxleben’s story ends, however. In 2000, Erxleben was sentenced to seven years in prison after pleading guilty to several types of fraud and money laundering. He was also ordered to pay $29 million in restitution and fines, which were eventually settled at $22 million.
The story still hasn't ended. A recent Reuters report from January 2013 shows that Erxleben was again arrested on fraud charges. This time it was for allegedly setting up and running a Ponzi scheme that promised its investors WWI memorabilia/bonds and, potentially, a painting by French Post-Impressionist artist Paul Gauguin. Erxleben, if convicted on all counts, faces up to 110 years in federal prison. Although it's hard to laugh at a story like this when so many investors were defrauded, this quote from the indictment should warrant at least a partial grin:
According to the indictment, the names of the companies under Erxleben Entities are WALTEC Consultants, an acronym authorities believe stands for "We All Like To Earn Cash"; LRE Holdings, believed to be the first letters of the first names of his three children; and the MDM Group, which authorities said could mean "Million Dollar Man" or "My Damn Money"
Also of note: Erxleben’s son, Ryan Erxleben, is currently a punter for Texas Tech.