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NY Jets draft countdown: The greatest 117th overall picks of all time

Leon Washington, NY Jets, Draft Picks
Leon Washington, New York Jets, Getty Images

The draft’s 117th choice features a Hall-of-Fame receiver, a green newcomer, and a Jets special teams legend

The New York Jets are set to come to Las Vegas’ NFL Draft podium nine times between April 28 and 30. In celebration and anticipation, Jets X-Factor looks back at the finest names chosen in their respective current slots.

Our countdown to Vegas continues with the 117th overall pick, which was obtained from the Minnesota Vikings in a trade involving Chris Herndon.

1976: WR Steve Largent, Houston

Had the 24/7 news cycle and Twitter existed during Steve Largent’s heyday, the Tulsa alum might’ve gone down as one of football’s earliest men to wear the “GOAT” label.

Traded from the Oilers (for an eighth-round pick) to the expansion Seattle Seahawks before his first regular season downs, Largent departed the league 14 years later as its all-time leader in receptions (819), receiving yardage (13,089), touchdown receptions (100, the first to reach triple digits), and consecutive games with a reception (177).

Though Largent’s league records have since been surpassed, he still holds numerous team marks in Seattle that will likely stand for ages: for example, his touchdown mark is more than double his closest competitor (Doug Baldwin).

1983: LB Riki Ellison, San Francisco

Part of the 49ers’ historic 1983 draft class that helped put the finishing touches on their championship dynasty roster (appearing alongside Roger Craig and Jesse Sapolu), Riki Ellison came personally recommended by USC teammate and fellow Bay Area champion Ronnie Lott.

He would go on to partake in three Super Bowl trips (an arm injury prevented him from appearing in the last in 1989) and also served as the first New Zealand-born and Maori player to partake in an NFL game, an achievement that was honored when he was inducted into the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame in 2017 (which had also inducted Sapolu two years prior).

Ellison is also the founder of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, a non-partisan group that aims to “make the world safer by advocating for the development and deployment of missile defense systems to defend the United States, its armed forces and its allies against missile threats”.

1987: RB Timmy Smith, Washington

Timmy Smith is far from the most accomplished name on this list. In fact, the Texas Tech alum played only three NFL seasons and 22 regular season contests.

But, for one glorious winter evening, Smith did what so many other legends of the game could not: break the double-century mark on American sports’ biggest stage.

Smith’s 204-yard rushing performance in the Redskins’ 42-10 demolition of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXII continues to stand as a championship record and he also put in two scores, the first being a 58-yard tally as part of Washington’s famous 35-point run in the second quarter.

2006: RB/KR Leon Washington, Jets

Brad Smith wasn’t the only dual-threat the Jets found in the 2006 draft. They also stumbled upon Florida State’s Leon Washington in the fourth round through a pick that came via Kansas City compensation for head coach Herman Edwards.

His initial impact came in the run game, as Washington helped stabilize the post-Curtis Martin picture when Kevan Barlow and Cedric Houston struggled.

Washington then made a name for himself on the special teams circuit, needing only two seasons to break Justin Miller’s mark for kick return touchdowns. The clinching fourth touchdown came in 2008, a year that saw Washington lead the league in all-purpose yards (2,337, also a Jets franchise single-season record) and reach the Pro Bowl.

Though Washington was dealt to Seattle after injuries ate away at his 2009 campaign, he returned to New York last season, becoming the Jets’ assistant special teams coach. He remains one of the shared leaders in all-time kick return touchdowns, with eight alongside Josh Cribbs and Cordarrelle Patterson.

2018: S Jordan Whitehead, Tampa Bay

The Jets’ return to the 117th slot coincides with the arrival of one of the more effective such selections, as Jordan Whitehead inked a two-year deal with the team in March.

Under the watch of defensive coordinator and former Jets head coach Todd Bowles, Whitehead became one of the most consistent cogs of the Buccaneers’ championship defense machine. The former Pitt Panther notably forced two fumbles in Tampa Bay’s NFC Championship Game victory over Green Bay, the latter setting up a Tom Brady touchdown pass that became the final difference of a 31-26 win.

Other notable 117th picks:

  • 1940: RB Harry Clarke, Chicago
  • 1975: DB Steve Freeman, New England
  • 1998: CB Deshea Townsend, Pittsburgh
  • 2004: DE Robert Geathers, Cincinnati
  • 2008: DB Quintin Demps, Philadelphia
  • 2016: WR/Ret. Pharoh Cooper, LA Rams
  • 2017: WR Josh Reynolds, LA Rams

Draft Countdown Series

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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