In 1937, Jack Frye became the first Missouri player to be selected in the NFL Draft as the No. 45 overall pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The draft lasted 10 rounds, with one pick per round for each of the league’s 10 teams. Frye, drafted as a back, was the leading scorer on the 1936 Tiger team, which was 6-2-1 in the Big Six Conference under second-year coach Don Faurot.
Missouri has had more than 200 players drafted since Frye, and looks to add at least a couple more starting Thursday when the 2021 NFL Draft commences in Cleveland.
Of those players, 20 have been first-round selections, the last being defensive end Charles Harris as the No. 22 pick by the Miami Dolphins in 2017. Harris played for the Atlanta Falcons in 2020, recording a career-best three sacks in a single season.
Russ Washington and Justin Smith are the two highest-drafted Tigers, both having been selected fourth overall in their respective draft classes, 1968 and 2001.
Washington spent 15 seasons with the San Diego Chargers, was a five-time Pro-Bowler and four-time All-Pro while winning the Forrest Gregg Award as the NFL Offensive Lineman of the Year in 1977, and was inducted into the team’s hall of fame in 1995. The tackle was inducted into the MU Athletics Hall of Fame in 1997 after the conclusion of his pro career.
Smith, drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals, had an impressive rookie season as he set a team rookie-record with 8.5 sacks — also the second-most by an NFL rookie in 2001 — and the most solo tackles (41) on the line. He spent seven seasons with Cincinnati and then seven with the San Francisco 49ers. A five-time Pro Bowler and Associated Press All-Pro defensive tackle and defensive end, Smith finished third in the 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year voting. The Jefferson City grad was inducted into the MU Athletics Hall of Fame in 2012 and retired from the NFL in 2015.
Another first-rounder from Missouri was Kellen Winslow, one of two Tigers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The San Diego Chargers selected Winslow No. 13 overall in the 1979 NFL Draft. Winslow, a tight end, played for San Diego his entire career, retiring in 1987 due to a knee injury.
Widely considered one of the best all-time at his position, Winslow recorded over 6,000 receiving yards in his career and scored 45 touchdowns. He was a five-time Pro-Bowler and an All-Pro from 1980-82. Winslow was also named to the NFL 75th Anniversary Team in 1994 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 2002.
Some of Missouri’s most prominent recent draftees include defensive end Michael Sam, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and quarterback Drew Lock.
The No. 249 pick in the 2014 draft, Sam’s story is less about his playing career than it is the impact he had on the league. Sam was the first publicly gay player in the NFL and played in the preseason for the St. Louis Rams before being released and signing to the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad. His rookie Rams jersey became the second-best selling behind Cleveland’s Johnny Manziel that year.
Maclin, drafted 19th overall in 2009 by the Philadelphia Eagles, played eight seasons with three different teams before retiring in 2019. Though he slid slightly from original draft predictions, the wide receiver recorded more than 6,000 receiving yards and 49 touchdowns, playing in the 2014 Pro Bowl following a season in which he recorded over 1,000 receiving yards.
Drafted in 2019, Lock was a projected first-round pick who slid to the No. 42 overall pick by the Denver Broncos. He earned the starting quarterback spot during his second season, but trouble arose quickly as he amassed 15 interceptions, just one fewer than his 16 touchdowns.