Sebastian Janikowski was drafted in first round. Was it worth it?

 

This offseason, Shutdown Corner will travel down memory lane with a series of stories presenting some interesting and sometimes forgotten stories from the NFL's past. Join us as we relive some of the greatest and craziest moments in the sport's history.

The first round of the 2000 NFL draft is an interesting one to look back on.

There were high picks who never quite lived up to the hype, like Courtney Brown or Travis Taylor. Some players had nice, long productive careers, such as Chris Samuels and Thomas Jones. Brian Urlacher and Shaun Alexander and a few others became superstars, although stardom lasted longer for some than others. 

Only one first-round pick from 2000 remains in the NFL, after John Abraham's career ended after 2014. The lone survivor is Oakland Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski. Go figure.

(AP)
(AP)

When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers picked kicker Roberto Aguayo in the second round this year, it drew immediate attention. Some liked it, many hated it. It was a startling pick because kickers are rarely drafted that high. Since the first NFL/AFL common draft in 1967, only 10 kickers have gone in the second round or higher. Most of them didn't work out too well; there are six combined Pro Bowls among those 10 players, and none of them made it more than twice.

Whatever uproar there was about Aguayo, it was a blip compared to the Oakland Raiders picking Janikowski in the first round out of Florida State 16 years ago.

When we talk about controversial draft picks, almost every one is controversial only in hindsight. On draft day itself, how many picks are ripped right away? There's optimism for almost every pick, and then down the road we decide if it was a terrible pick or not.

The Janikowski pick was different. When Janikowski was picked 17th overall by maverick owner Al Davis, nobody knew at the time what to think about it. Not even within the Raiders' building.

"I remember that almost immediately after our selection several of our coaches and football staff expressed to me how disappointed and angry they were that Al used that pick on a kicker," longtime Raiders executive Amy Trask said. "Interestingly, over the course of years, some of those very men suggested both that it was a smart pick and that they agreed with Al’s selection at the time."

That perfectly frames the debate of whether the Janikowski pick was worth it. It's easy to see both sides.

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On one hand, getting 16 years and counting out of any draft pick is a huge plus. Janikowski has played in all but four games the past 16 seasons and is still going strong. He is the Raiders' all-time leading scorer with 1,675 points, nearly doubling up George Blanda and his 863 points in second place. Janikowski is 39th in NFL history in field-goal percentage, 11th in field goals made, 15th in points scored and has made an incredible 52 field goals from 50 yards or longer. Without question, there's value in all of that.

There were 254 picks in 2000 and only three are still playing Janikowski, punter and fellow Raiders pick Shane Lechler (fifth round) and the incomparable Tom Brady (sixth round). Of the first 141 players taken in that draft, only Janikowski is still in the NFL.

"It was a terrific selection," Trask, whose book "You Negotiate Like a Girl" comes out later this year, said. "Kickers are tremendously important and to those who disagree, I ask this: Seconds remaining in regulation, you need a field goal to beat a hated division rival on the road — now do you think a kicker is important?  We drafted Sebastian in 2000 and in both 2000 and 2001 he kicked a game-winning field goal with time running out — each time, I’m delighted to note, in Kansas City."

Fair points.

However, the counter-argument is strong. Janikowski has been good but not great, and every other pure kicker since 1967 cost less to acquire in the draft. Janikowski has been to the Pro Bowl just once, in 2011. He has never been a first-team All-Pro, so at no point over his long career has Janikowski been considered the best kicker in football.

There's the opportunity cost of taking any kicker that high. Great kickers almost always come relatively cheap. Of the 24 other kickers to make the Pro Bowl since 2000, 15 weren't drafted at all, three were third-round picks, one was a fourth-round pick, three were sixth-round picks, one was a seventh-round pick and one was a 12th-round pick. If you can get an Adam Vinatieri, David Akers or Dan Bailey as an undrafted free agent, it seems like a waste of resources to spend a first-round pick on any kicker, much less one who has never been a first-team All-Pro. Especially when Alexander, the NFL's MVP in 2005, went two picks after Janikowski.

You can argue that any kicker going in the first couple rounds better end up as one of the greatest kickers ever to justify the pick, and not simply give you a lot of good, solid years. Put another way: How many extra games over the past 16 seasons did the Raiders win with Janikowski that they couldn't have won with, say, Shayne Graham, who was undrafted in 2000? Graham, for what it's worth, had an 85.5 career field-goal percentage over 15 seasons; Janikowski's is 80.2.

Janikowski is the only pure kicker taken in the first round of the common draft era. Two other kickers taken in the first round, Steve Little (1978) and Russell Erxleben (1979), punted too (and neither ultimately worked out, by the way). It's very unlikely we see another kicker taken in the first round anytime soon, considering Aguayo is one of the best kicking prospects to ever come out of college and he went 59th. Janikowski will hold his distinction for a long time.

And 16 years later, it's not entirely clear if the Raiders made a great pick or not.

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdown.corner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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