Since the first draft was held in 1936, the National Football League (NFL) has used its annual culling of the top college talent in the country to grow its ranks, renew the popularity of the sport, and to increase competitive parity among all football teams. Though the draft process has undergone several iterations since that first draft took place, it remains true to its original design as an equalizer. In its current arrangement, the draft consists of seven rounds, whereby each of the 32 NFL teams receives one pick per round. The order of selection takes place in reverse order of how each team finished the previous season—in other words, barring any trades between teams, each round starts with the team that had the worst overall record and ends with the Super Bowl champions.

There is a long and storied history of teams coming out of the dustbin of failure to resurrect themselves through strategic drafting of top college players. In 1989, for example, the Dallas Cowboys finished 1-15, the worst record in their franchise history. But after drafting Emmitt Smith, who would go on to become the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, first-round No. 1 pick Russell Maryland, and No. 1 pick and future Hall of Famer Troy Aikman, “America’s team” transformed itself into a powerhouse that won three Super Bowls throughout the 1990s.

And while for every top draft pick that went on to gridiron glory—such as 7-time All-Pro quarterback Peyton Manning—there are equally storied accounts of star players who almost didn’t make it out of the draft at all, let alone make a team’s top pick, the NFL’s annual strategic raffle has retained, for teams and colleges alike, its power to change the face of the game with a single draft pick. To this, one need look no further than the 2017 draft, when nine teams passed over Patrick Mahomes, who has gone on to take the once-flailing Kansas City Chiefs to three Super Bowl appearances.

With the 2022 draft slated to be held April 28-30 in Las Vegas, Stacker compiled a list of the highest NFL draft picks born in California since 1970 using data from Pro Football Reference. Ties were broken by the most recent year drafted.

#20. Al Cowlings (DE)
– Born: San Francisco, California
– Draft pick: Round 1, #5 overall in 1970
– Drafted by: Buffalo Bills
– University: USC
– Years as a starter in NFL: 5 (0 Pro Bowls)

#19. Duane Bickett (LB)
– Born: Los Angeles, California
– Draft pick: Round 1, #5 overall in 1985
– Drafted by: Indianapolis Colts
– University: USC
– Years as a starter in NFL: 9 (1 Pro Bowls)

#18. Junior Seau (LB)
– Born: San Diego, California
– Draft pick: Round 1, #5 overall in 1990
– Drafted by: San Diego Chargers
– University: USC
– Years as a starter in NFL: 16 (12 Pro Bowls)

#17. J.D. Hill (WR)
– Born: Stockton, California
– Draft pick: Round 1, #4 overall in 1971
– Drafted by: Buffalo Bills
– University: Arizona St.
– Years as a starter in NFL: 5 (1 Pro Bowls)

#16. Willie McGinest (DE)
– Born: Long Beach, California
– Draft pick: Round 1, #4 overall in 1994
– Drafted by: New England Patriots
– University: USC
– Years as a starter in NFL: 13 (2 Pro Bowls)

#15. Matt Kalil (T)
– Born: Corona, California
– Draft pick: Round 1, #4 overall in 2012
– Drafted by: Minnesota Vikings
– University: USC
– Years as a starter in NFL: 5 (1 Pro Bowls)

#14. Dan Pastorini (QB)
– Born: Sonora, California
– Draft pick: Round 1, #3 overall in 1971
– Drafted by: Houston Texans
– University: Santa Clara
– Years as a starter in NFL: 9 (1 Pro Bowls)

#13. Anthony Munoz (T)
– Born: Ontario, California
– Draft pick: Round 1, #3 overall in 1980
– Drafted by: Cincinnati Bengals
– University: USC
– Years as a starter in NFL: 12 (11 Pro Bowls)

#12. Akili Smith (QB)
– Born: San Diego, California
– Draft pick: Round 1, #3 overall in 1999
– Drafted by: Cincinnati Bengals
– University: Oregon
– Years as a starter in NFL: 1 (0 Pro Bowls)

#11. Sam Darnold (QB)
– Born: Capistrano Beach, California
– Draft pick: Round 1, #3 overall in 2018
– Drafted by: NY Jets
– University: USC
– Years as a starter in NFL: 4 (0 Pro Bowls)

#10. Eric Turner (DB)
– Born: Thousand Oaks, California
– Draft pick: Round 1, #2 overall in 1991
– Drafted by: Cleveland Browns
– University: UCLA
– Years as a starter in NFL: 7 (2 Pro Bowls)

#9. Tony Boselli (T)
– Born: Modesto, California
– Draft pick: Round 1, #2 overall in 1995
– Drafted by: Jacksonville Jaguars
– University: USC
– Years as a starter in NFL: 6 (5 Pro Bowls)

#8. Reggie Bush (RB)
– Born: Spring Valley, California
– Draft pick: Round 1, #2 overall in 2006
– Drafted by: New Orleans Saints
– University: USC
– Years as a starter in NFL: 8 (0 Pro Bowls)

#7. Chris Long (DE)
– Born: Santa Monica, California
– Draft pick: Round 1, #2 overall in 2008
– Drafted by: St. Louis Rams
– University: Virginia
– Years as a starter in NFL: 6 (0 Pro Bowls)

#6. Jim Plunkett (QB)
– Born: San Jose, California
– Draft pick: Round 1, #1 overall in 1971
– Drafted by: New England Patriots
– University: Stanford
– Years as a starter in NFL: 10 (0 Pro Bowls)

#5. Troy Aikman (QB)
– Born: West Covina, California
– Draft pick: Round 1, #1 overall in 1989
– Drafted by: Dallas Cowboys
– University: UCLA
– Years as a starter in NFL: 12 (6 Pro Bowls)

#4. Keyshawn Johnson (WR)
– Born: Los Angeles, California
– Draft pick: Round 1, #1 overall in 1996
– Drafted by: NY Jets
– University: USC
– Years as a starter in NFL: 11 (3 Pro Bowls)

#3. David Carr (QB)
– Born: Bakersfield, California
– Draft pick: Round 1, #1 overall in 2002
– Drafted by: Houston Texans
– University: Fresno St.
– Years as a starter in NFL: 5 (0 Pro Bowls)

#2. Carson Palmer (QB)
– Born: Fresno, California
– Draft pick: Round 1, #1 overall in 2003
– Drafted by: Cincinnati Bengals
– University: USC
– Years as a starter in NFL: 12 (3 Pro Bowls)

#1. Jared Goff (QB)
– Born: Novato, California
– Draft pick: Round 1, #1 overall in 2016
– Drafted by: Los Angeles Rams
– University: California
– Years as a starter in NFL: 5 (2 Pro Bowls)

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