With the 2021 NFL Draft just days away, Northwestern appears primed to make program history.
The Wildcats, who have only ever had eight former players total picked in the first round, look as if they will have not one, but two names called this Thursday. While offensive lineman Rashawn Slater has looked like a top pick throughout the entire draft process, a recent riser is cornerback Greg Newsome, whose strong Pro Day has launched him into the conversation of being selected in the low 20s. If both are picked Thursday, it would mark the first time in school history that Northwestern had two first-rounders in the same draft.
It has been 16 years since a Wildcat has been taken in the first round, but this year appears as if it will break the long drought. In anticipation of Slater and Newsome’s selections, let’s take a look back at all the past first-rounders to come out of this program (with the best saved for last, of course).
2005: Luis Castillo (DT) - Pick 28, San Diego Chargers
Following a positive drug test at the NFL Scouting Combine, Castillo watched his draft stock fall to the 28th pick. Castillo’s steroid use was due to a hyper-extended elbow in his final season with the Wildcats, an injury that he felt he had to push through in order to help the team. The Chargers’ decision to take a chance on him was rewarded with a seven year career, in which he tallied 210 tackles, 19 sacks, two forced fumbles and two interceptions.
Castillo’s best season came in his second year, where he totaled 37 tackles, seven sacks, and an interception in only 10 games. He was named a second alternate to the Pro Bowl that year, and played a crucial role anchoring the defensive line of the fifth-ranked scoring defense in 2007. Unfortunately, Castillo and San Diego weren’t able to get past the undefeated Patriots and fell one win short of the Super Bowl.
A contributing part in the Chargers’ deep playoff run, Castillo landed a five year deal with the team after the season. Castillo started 46 of 48 games over the next three years, but San Diego wasn’t able to replicate the stifling defensive production of 2007. A broken leg in week one of 2011 ultimately ended Castillo’s career, and he retired the following season.
Aside from his overall solid career, Castillo’s best accomplishment is an honor few have received. In 2007, Castillo was named the cover athlete for the Spanish edition of Madden NFL 08.
2002: Napoleon Harris (LB) - Pick 23, Oakland Raiders
Taken one pick before Hall-of-Famer Ed Reed, Napoleon Harris made an immediate impact as a rookie. Harris started 16 total games at middle linebacker and recorded eight combined tackles in Super Bowl XXXVII. The next season, Harris forced three fumbles and notched 107 combined tackles, good for second on the team.
Harris was traded in 2005 to Minnesota as part of the blockbuster Randy Moss trade, but he never quite panned out for the Vikings. While he was able to pick off three passes in 2006, the linebacker was held back by lingering knee injuries and lasted only two years with the Vikings. Harris signed a six year deal the next summer with Kansas City, where he had a team-leading and career-high 116 tackles, but was cut the following October. He finished his career after a second stint with the Vikings that included 10 games played.
After his NFL career ended, Harris was elected to the Illinois State Senate, where he currently serves today. The former linebacker has been in office since 2013.
1983: Chris Hinton (OT) - Pick 4, Denver Broncos
Chris Hinton will unfortunately always be remembered as the player the Broncos traded for first overall pick John Elway. However, Hinton’s career was certainly not one to forget. After being traded to the Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts, Hinton played seven years as one of the best left tackles in the NFL. The star lineman was a Pro Bowler in six of his seasons with the team, being named First-Team All-Pro in 1987 and Second-Team All-Pro three times.
Hinton tallied 92 starts across 94 games for the Colts, but was traded to the Atlanta Falcons for the first overall pick (again) in 1990. In Atlanta, Hinton played a total of 63 games at both right tackle and right guard, earning his seventh Pro Bowl honor in 1991. Hinton joined the Vikings as a free agent in 1994, where he played 20 games (starting them all) across two years to finish out his 13 year career.
Over the course of his career, Hinton started in 172 games. He was inducted into the Indianapolis Colts’ Ring of Honor in 2001.
1967: Cas Banaszek (TE) - Pick 11, San Francisco 49ers
Although drafted as a tight end, Cas Banaszek played the entirety of his 11 year career as the 49ers’ right tackle. The Chicago native started 112 games for San Francisco, and was named a Second-Team All-Pro in 1968. Banaszek was a member of “The Protectors,” the offensive line that set the record (at the time) of eight sacks allowed in an entire season.
Following his retirement, Banaszek coached the California Golden Bears’ offensive line for two years before returning to the Niners’ organization as the assistant O-Line coach. As coach, Banaszek played a part in San Francisco’s first ever championship in Super Bowl XVI.
1962: Fate Echols (OT) - Pick 6, St. Louis Cardinals
Fate Echols spent only two years in the NFL after being drafted sixth overall by the Cardinals. Echols appeared in five games in 1962 and three the next year, starting only one game.
In the AFL, Echols was drafted in the third round (21st overall) by the New York Titans. However, he never played for the team.
1960: Ron Burton (RB) - Pick 9, Philadelphia Eagles
A consensus All-American for Northwestern in 1959, Ron Burton actually never played a down for the Philadelphia Eagles. Instead, Burton ditched the team for the upstart AFL, which planned to kick off its first season the following fall. Burton was selected by the Boston Patriots with their first pick, and made an immediate impact.
Burton has many of the “firsts” for the Patriots, including being the first to rush for over 100 yards in one game. His best year with Boston was 1962, when he combined for 1,009 rushing and receiving yards. Additionally, he returned a missed field goal 91 yards for a touchdown, which is still a Patriots record to this day. Burton played five years in Boston and never ended up playing in the NFL.
1947: Vic Schwall (RB) - Pick 10, New York Giants
Repping jersey No. 90, the running back spent his entire four year career with the Chicago Cardinals. Schwall was often lost amongst a very crowded backfield and was a non-contributing member of the Cardinals’ 1947 NFL Championship team. In his second year, Schwall ran for 107 yards on only 15 attempts, as well as the sole rushing touchdown of his career. Schwall set a career high in yards during the 1950 season, where he rushed for 114 yards on 17 carries. Despite the career year, he retired following the season.
1944: Otto Graham (QB) - Pick 4, Detroit Lions
Saving the best for last, we now get to take a look at one of the greatest players to throw a ball in NFL history. Otto Graham truly revolutionized the game and is still regarded by some today as a top 10 quarterback in NFL history.
While he was drafted fourth overall by the Lions, Graham never even signed a contract with the team, and instead went to play in the All-America Football Conference for the Cleveland Browns. Graham dominated the AAFC, winning the championship all four years in the league. The AAFC merged into the NFL in 1949 after Graham had become the former league’s all-time leading passer.
The change in competition was no issue for the Browns, who went to the next six NFL championship games, winning three and losing three. With Graham under center, the Browns’ record was 57-13-1, with a 9-3 record in the playoffs. He currently holds the record for highest career winning percentage of an NFL staring quarterback, having won 81% of all games he played. In his entire career, Graham never missed a single game.
For ten years, Otto Graham was one of the best — if not the best — players in football. In his five years in the NFL, the passer won three MVPs, was named to the Pro Bowl every year, and was a First-Team All-Pro for four years. Statistically, Graham led the league in passing yards and passer rating twice, as well as passing touchdowns in 1952. Graham’s arm and playmaking ability were something the league had never seen before and made him one of the true trailblazers of the quarterback position.