Terrell Owens terrorized the NFL in his day. Even with terrible teams, the wide receiver’s performance made a defensive line look foolish. He never won a Super Bowl, but his resume looks incredible without it. Fellow 1996 NFL draft first-rounder Jonathan Ogden got his chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy and also earned 11 Pro Bowl honors.
Clearly, this is a draft class worth taking a closer look at. Upon further examination, though, there are some surprising results. This includes a quirk of history that one of the best players from that year, Owens, went deep in the third round at No. 89.
The 1996 NFL draft
If Owens wasn’t in the first round, who was? Well, 1996 wasn’t a particularly standout year. It also missed the ignominious honor of being packed with busts, as years like 2016 were. Only two of the 1996 NFL draft’s first-round picks hold the unfortunate honor of being chosen well above their eventual performance in the league.
Pro Football Reference keeps a record of the full 1996 NFL draft class. Here is the entire first round, with notable figures — for good or ill — in bold:
- 1st: Keyshawn Johnson, New York Jets, retired in 2006. Became a broadcaster for ESPN
- 2nd: Kevin Hardy, Jacksonville Jaguars, retired in 2004
- 3rd: Simeon Rice, Arizona Cardinals, retired in 2007
- 4th: Jonathan Ogden, Arizona Cardinals, retired in 2007. Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2012
- 5th: Cedric Jones, New York Jets, retired in 2000
- 6th: Lawrence Phillips, St. Louis Rams, retired in 1999. Played in the CFL for several years and helped win a championship there in 2002
- 7th: Terry Glenn, New England Patriots, retired in 2007
- 8th: Tim Biakabutuka, Carolina Panthers, retired in 2001
- 9th: Rickey Dudley, Oakland Raiders, retired in 2004
- 10th: Willie Anderson, Cincinnati Bengals, retired in 2008
- 11th: Alex Molden, New Orleans Saints, retired in 2008
- 12th: Regan Upshaw, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, retired in 2004
- 13th: Walt Harris, Chicago Bears, retired in 2008
- 14th: Eddie George, Houston Oilers retired in 2004
- 15th: John Mobley, Denver Broncos, retired in 2003
- 16th: Duane Clemons, Minnesota Vikings, retired in 2005
- 17th: Reggie Brown, Detroit Lions, retired in 1997. A spinal injury abruptly ended his career.
- 18th: Eddie Kennison, St. Louis Rams, retired in 2008
- 19th: Marvin Harrison, St. Louis Rams, retired in 2008. Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2016
- 20th: Daryl Gardener, Miami Dolphins, retired in 2003
- 21st: Pete Kendall, Seattle Seahawks, retired in 2008
- 22nd: Marcus Jones, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, retired in 2001
- 23rd: Jeff Hartings, Detroit Lions, retired in 2006
- 24th: Eric Moulds, Buffalo Bills, retired in 2007
- 25th: Jermane Mayberry, Philadelphia Eagles, retired in 2007
- 26th: Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens, retired in 2012. After his long career, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018, his first year of eligibility.
- 27th: John Michels, Green Bay Packers, retired in 1997. A knee injury ended his career early.
- 28th: Jerome Woods, Kansas City Chiefs, retired in 2005
- 29th: Jamain Stephens, Pittsburgh Steelers, retired in 2001
- 30th: Andre Johnson, Washington Redskins, retired in 1998. He showed little aptitude for NFL-level play at offensive tackle, and only played in three games before retiring.
The best first-round picks alongside Jonathan Ogden
Ray Lewis might as well be called “Mr. Ravens.” The two-time Super Bowl champion linebacker was drafted for the team’s inaugural season. He never played elsewhere across his 17 seasons. According to NFL.com, Lewis was a no-brainer selection for the Pro Football Hall of fame, not least because of the rare feat of earning Defensive Player of the Year twice in his career.
Marvin Harrison was one of the most productive receivers in NFL history. According to ESPN, if you want to pick the best, only Jerry Rice edges out the Indianapolis Colts’ two-time NFL receiving yards leader. He made it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his unforgettable feats in 2016.
The curious fates of several 1996 first-round picks
Lawrence Phillips was the notorious bust of the 1996 NFL draft. Picked sixth overall by the St. Louis Rams, he faced high expectations after his near-Heisman time as running back with Nebraska. Petty crimes landed Phillips in and out of jail, and he repeatedly showed up to practice drunk. He washed out of the NFL in a few short years and unfortunately died by suicide in 2015 as CBS Sports reports.
Unlike Phillips, linebacker Reggie Brown wasn’t a bust at all. He vied for a spot in the playoffs for the Detroit Lions in 1997. That changed in one horrible moment. Brown went for a routine tackle on Jets running back Adrian Murrell. His helmet awkwardly collided with another Jets player, and he instantly collapsed. His NFL career ended that day. Fortunately, he was able to walk again and now has a career running a charter school with his wife.
And then there is, of course, Terrell Owens. Thankfully, he experienced his greatest difficulty at the start of his career. Owens was severely underrated, drafted 89th overall in the third round by the 49ers. He was one of his generations’ great performers. NBC Sports reports that Owens has the single-season receiving yardage record, with 1,964 in 2021. The Detroit Lions won just four games that year, but Owens refused to hit the brakes.