KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There hasn’t been a first-round pick from Kansas, Kansas State or Mizzou in any of the last five NFL Drafts, a streak that may continue Thursday when the 2023 NFL Draft kicks off in Kansas City, Missouri.
But a total of 35 Jayhawks, Wildcats and Tigers — nine from KU, five from K-State and 21 from MU — have been selected in various first rounds dating back to 1943.
Each school has had at least one player taken No. 4 overall, which is the highest pick among the schools. The Tigers have had three players picked fourth overall.
KU first-round draft history
Former Jayhawks great Gale Sayers, “The Kansas Comet,” went fourth overall in the 1965 NFL Draft to the Chicago Bears.
Amazingly, he was only the third running back taken behind Auburn’s Tucker Frederickson, who went No. 1 to the New York Giants, and North Carolina’s Ken Willard, who went No. 2 to San Francisco — though neither came close to matching Sayers’ Hall of Fame career.
The Bears also had the No. 3 overall pick, which they used to snag future Hall of Fame linebacker Dick Butkus — not a bad draft haul.
The Kansas City Chiefs picked Sayers with the No. 5 pick in the 1965 AFL Draft, but he signed with Chicago instead.
Kansas’ most-recent first-round pick? That would be cornerback Aqib Talib, who went 20th to Tampa Bay in 2008.
Other notable Jayhawks selected in the first round include quarterback John Hadl (10th in 1962 to Detroit) and running back John Riggins (sixth in 1971 to the New York Jets).
K-State first-round draft history
Kansas State has produced two top-five NFL draft picks — running back Veryl Switzer, who went fourth to Green Bay in the 1954 NFL Draft, and cornerback Terence Newman, who went fifth to Dallas in 2003.
Switzer, who died last summer, was the first Black scholarship player to graduate from K-State.
The most recent Wildcat to get picked in the first round was a Kansas City native — former Grandview star quarterback Josh Freeman, who went No. 17 to Tampa Bay in 2007.
But that could change if K-State defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah sneaks into the back end of the first round Thursday night. It is likely that he's going to be the first player taken from the three major NCAA Division I programs in this year’s draft.
Mizzou first-round draft history
The Tigers have the most extensive history and success with first-round picks among our local power-conference programs, producing more first-round picks than Kansas and Kansas State combined by a wide margin.
The program also produced the first first-rounder with running back Bob Steuber’s selection No. 9 overall in the 1943 NFL Draft. He edged KU running back Ray Evans, the ninth pick in 1944 to Chicago, by a year for that honor.
Three former Mizzou players — running back Johnny Roland, lineman Russ Washington and defensive end Justin Smith — were selected No. 4 overall.
Roland went fourth in the 1965 AFL Redshirt Draft, but he ultimately signed with the then-St. Louis Cardinals, who took him in the fourth round of the 1965 NFL Draft.
Roland, a two-time Pro Bowler, was the 1966 Rookie of the Year for AP and UPI. He played eight professional seasons.
Washington — a Kansas City, Missouri, native and graduate of Southeast High School who died in 2021 — went fourth overall to the then-San Diego Chargers in the 1968 NFL Draft.
Washington played 15 seasons, all for San Diego, appearing in 200 games, including 196 career starts.
After starting his career as a defensive tackle for the first two seasons, finishing fourth in the AFL Defensive Rookie of the Year voting in 1968, he switched to right tackle and finished his career on offense, earning five Pro Bowl selections.
Washington has been inducted in the Chargers’ Hall of Fame and was included on the franchise’s 40th and 50th anniversary teams.
Smith, who went fourth to Cincinnati in the 2001 NFL Draft, earned five Pro Bowl selections and was first-team All-Pro once in a 14-year NFL career, split evenly between the Bengals and San Francisco.
He finished with 87 career sacks, also split evenly between the Bengals and 49ers, with whom he had 43 1/2 sacks apiece. He’s tied for 93rd all-time in NFL history.
Smith also had 16 forced fumbles and 10 fumble recoveries in 221 career NFL games, 111 with Cincy and 110 with San Fran.
Mizzou’s group of first-round picks also includes a pair of future Hall of Famers — cornerback Roger Wehrli (19th in 1969 to the then-St. Louis Cardinals) and tight end Kellen Winslow (13th in 1979 to the then-San Diego Chargers).
Wehrli went on to become a seven-time Pro Bowler, three-time All-Pro and finished his 14-year career with 40 interceptions, which remains tied for 78th in NFL history despite playing before passing dominated the league.
Winslow would be selected to five Pro Bowls and led the NFL twice in receptions, helping revolutionize the position as part of the “Air (Don) Coryell” offense. He finished with 6,741 yards and 45 touchdowns in a nine-year career.
Other notable Tigers taken in the first round include wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (19th in 2009 to Philadelphia), Raytown graduate Aldon Smith (seventh to San Francisco in 2011) and new Chiefs backup QB Blaine Gabbert (10th to Jacksonville in 2011).
KCMO native and Lincoln Prep graduate Charles Harris, a defensive end who went 22nd to Miami in 2017, is Mizzou’s most-recent first-round pick.
All-time KU, K-State, MU first-round picks
KU all-time first-round NFL Draft picks
K-State all-time first-round NFL Draft picks
Mizzou all-time first-round NFL Draft picks