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Looking Back At Ron Rivera's Last Five First-Round Draft Picks


Ron Rivera will make his first draft pick as the Redskins' new head coach with the No. 2 overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft on April 23, and fans can't wait to see who he will choose to start his new era.

A majority of the signs are pointing in one direction, as most draft analysts are predicting the Redskins to pick Ohio State defensive end Chase Young. Widely regarded as the best overall prospect among this year's draft class, Young would join fellow first-round picks Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, Montez Sweat and Ryan Kerrigan as a part of Washington's pass rush.

In truth, no one except Rivera, his coaching staff and the scouting department have an idea as to what the team will do with the pick. They have plenty of options at their disposal, and that includes trading down for more picks.

But if Rivera's past draft history is any indication of what is to come, fans can be confident in knowing he has a track record of getting players who can offer an immediate impact.

In his last five seasons with the Carolina Panthers, Rivera has chosen wisely with his first-round picks to find Day 1 starters or crucial role players. Aside from drafting players like running back Christian McCaffrey, who was selected to his first Pro Bowl and was a first-team All-Pro in 2019, he has also found players like Brian Burns who provided meaningful snaps in their rookie seasons.

Below are the last five first-round draft picks Rivera has made as a head coach.

1. Brian Burns, EDGE, Florida State

Burns was selected with the No.16 overall pick in 2019 as the fourth defensive end behind Rashan Gary, Clelin Ferrell and Nick Bosa. He was viewed on his draft profile as a Year 1 quality starter with "silky hips and sudden feet."

Rivera and the Panthers drafted Burns because they viewed him as an athlete who had length, speed and could rush opposing quarterbacks, and he certainly did that in his first year. He had five starts in his rookie season, including the season opener against the Los Angeles Rams, and played in all but one game.

"He's a solid young man, very bright, very intelligent," Rivera said in a press conference after selecting Burns. "He understands the game, has a good feel for the game. There were a lot of positive things that came out of our interactions with him that pushed him to the top of our list."

Burn was fourth among rookies in sacks (7.5) behind Bosa, Maxx Crosby and Josh Allen and had 25 tackles. He also recovered a fumble and returned it for a 56-yard touchdown.

2. D.J. Moore, Wide Receiver, Maryland

Moore was the first receiver taken (24th overall) and one of two receivers taken in the first round of the 2018 draft. The other, Calvin Ridley, was taken by the Atlanta Falcons two picks later.

"He's a guy that I believe is gonna be able to come in and have the ability to play all three of our wide receiver positions," Rivera said in 2018. "He has the opportunity to come in and contribute right away."

Moore, who made the NFL's All-Rookie team, played in all 16 games (10 starts) while catching 55 passes for 788 yards and two touchdowns. He also had 13 rushes for 172 yards, including a 32-yard run against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a 42-28 victory.

Moore is just the second wide receiver Rivera has taken in the first round. He has yet to be named to a Pro Bowl or an All-Pro team, but Moore is quickly trending towards being one of the better receivers in the league after getting his first 1,000-yard season in his second year.

3. Christian McCaffrey, Running Back, Stanford

It's generally rare for running backs to get selected in the first round of recent drafts, let alone in the top 10. In 2017, there were two taken in the first eight picks, as the Jacksonville Jaguars selected Leonard Fournette fourth and Panthers chose McCaffrey eighth.

Three years later, McCaffrey is one of the best running backs in the league, but he was already making an impression in his rookie season.

"It's going to be about position flexibility more so than anything else," Rivera said on how McCaffrey could impact the Panthers’ offense. "He's going to be used a lot in a way of how they used him as Stanford. We're looking at opportunities to create opportunities for him to make plays."

Although McCaffrey only started in 10 games, he played the entire season and had 1,086 yards of total offense and seven touchdowns.

He averaged 3.7 yards on 117 rushing attempts but was even more potent as a pass catcher. He had 80 receptions and 651 yards for an average of 8.1 yards per catch.

4. Vernon Butler, Defensive Tackle, Louisiana Tech

Butler was described as a player who possessed a "raw, but diverse skillset as a pass rusher that should excite NFL evaluators who see the potential of what he can be with more coaching and experience." His two years starting at Louisiana Tech proved that he could be a valuable asset to any interior defensive line.

Still, Butler fell all the way to the end of the first round before the Panthers selected him with the 30th pick. They didn't draft him as a project, though; they wanted to put him in the rotation right away.

"We're not bringing him in to sit around and develop," Rivera said in 2016. "We're bringing him to get on the football field and help us win. You know my goal. My vision is to win the Super Bowl, not just get out there and try. We are going to do everything we can to win."

Butler did not have as much immediate success as some of the Panthers' other first-round picks. He only had 13 tackles and 1.5 sacks in 10 games, partly because he was out for six weeks with an ankle injury.

However, Butler came on strong in 2019 with six sacks and 32 tackles. He even started in a game for the first time in his career. It might have taken four seasons, but Butler eventually became a reliable player for the Panthers in Rivera's final year.

5. Shaq Thompson, Linebacker, Washington

Thompson is another player who had his best season in Rivera's last with the team, but he was a reliable starter even before he had a career-high 109 tackles in 2019.

The Panthers drafted Thompson with the 25th overall pick in 2015 because he brought versatility to their defense. Rivera said Thompson would allow the Panthers defense to keep three linebackers on the field when offenses lined up in two tight end sets. His speed and toughness allowed him to cover pass-catching tight ends while also playing the run.

"When you put the tape on, you just see him all over the football field," Rivera said in 2015. "You see him doing things. This guy has a chance to grow here and hopefully he'll have a long career here and he'll be that guy that's going to be here a long time."

Thompson only had one sack in 14 games during his rookie year, but he tied for 17th among rookies with 50 tackles.

Thompson went on to become a valuable piece to the Panthers' defense. He's started in 61 of the 72 games he has played and had three sacks in 2019. He also had 11 tackles for loss, which is another career high.

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