Uncovering Gems: The Impact of the 1979 NFL Draft Picks

The 1979 NFL Draft stands as a pivotal moment in football history, marking the entry of future legends into the league. It’s a draft class that not only shaped the teams that selected them but also left an indelible mark on the sport itself.

Diving into the ’79 draft, they’ll uncover the stories behind the picks, the unexpected turns, and the draft’s lasting impact. From the first overall pick to the late-round steals, it’s a tale of anticipation, strategy, and sheer talent that still echoes in the halls of the NFL today.

Whether you’re a die-hard football fan or just love a good sports narrative, they’re about to explore a draft that delivered drama, excitement, and a hefty dose of gridiron glory. Buckle up for a trip down memory lane to one of the NFL’s most unforgettable drafts.

The Significance of the 1979 NFL Draft

The 1979 NFL Draft stands out as a groundbreaking event that reshaped the league and set a precedent for future drafts. This draft was not just about selecting the best college football players; it was about strategic planning and foresight by team management.

Key players, such as Joe Montana, Phil Simms, and Kellen Winslow, were picked during this draft, each going on to have Hall of Fame careers. Their impact on the field transformed the teams that selected them and elevated the level of competition throughout the NFL.

Market dynamics also shifted considerably post-1979. The players’ performance in the coming years would lead to changes in how franchises assessed and valued talent. This draft demonstrated the importance of thorough scouting and analysis, as many of the players selected were not initially predicted to achieve the levels of success they eventually reached.

One of the most notable aspects of the 1979 NFL Draft was the diversity of talent. Teams secured players who would excel at various positions, from quarterbacks to defensive powerhouses. This variety in skill sets proved that a team’s success relied on more than just a strong quarterback; it required an ensemble of players excelling in different roles.

  • Joe Montana was picked in the third round and became one of the most legendary quarterbacks in the history of the league.
  • Kellen Winslow, selected 13th overall, redefined the tight end position.

The draft laid a foundational impact on team compositions that are still visible in modern NFL strategies. This event underscored the fact that the right draft choices can alter the trajectory of a franchise for decades to come, creating legacies and changing the fate of organizations.

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The 1979 NFL Draft’s influence on the game is undeniable. It went beyond the day’s selections, shaping the sport’s landscape and the structure of power within the league. Understanding this draft is crucial for those who wish to grasp the intricate and strategic nature of building a championship-caliber NFL team.

The First Overall Pick: Who was Chosen?

In the historic 1979 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills held the first overall pick. With high expectations and intense speculation surrounding their decision, they selected Tom Cousineau, a linebacker out of Ohio State University. Cousineau came into the draft with considerable acclaim, having been recognized as an All-American and one of the fiercest linebackers in college football.

Cousineau’s talent on the field was undeniable, and his selection was seen as a strategic move for the Bills who sought to bolster their defensive lineup. His athletic prowess, combined with his instinctive playmaking abilities, made him a standout prospect. Many scouts believed he had the potential to become a transformative figure within the organization.

Despite the excitement that typically accompanies the first overall pick, Cousineau’s NFL career took an unexpected turn. Before playing a single down in the NFL, he opted to join the Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian Football League after contractual disputes with the Bills. This decision shocked fans and analysts alike, leading to discussions about the complex nature of player contracts and negotiations.

While Cousineau would eventually return to the NFL, playing for teams like the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers, his initial decision to play outside the league shifted the focus of the 1979 Draft and laid the groundwork for discussions on player autonomy and leverage. His move underscored the reality that in the NFL Draft, not all goes according to plan and sometimes, the most talked-about moves happen off the field.

Unexpected Turns and Surprises in the Draft

The 1979 NFL Draft was rife with unexpected turns and surprises that kept fans and teams on the edge of their seats. Hall of Fame inductees emerged from later rounds, underscoring the unpredictable nature of player development and performance. Joe Montana, a name synonymous with quarterback excellence, wasn’t snagged until the third round, going to the San Francisco 49ers as the 82nd overall pick. Montana’s unanticipated slide down the draft board became one of the most iconic draft day steals in NFL history.

While Montana’s selection was a pleasant surprise for the 49ers, other teams experienced similar fortunes. Phil Simms, although not as well-known as Montana at the time, was drafted in the first round by the New York Giants, a move that elicited mixed reactions from the fanbase due to his relatively obscure college career. Simms, however, would go on to validate his selection with a performance that ultimately secured him a MVP title in Super Bowl XXI.

One of the most shocking decisions of the 1979 NFL Draft was Tom Cousineau’s choice to join the Canadian Football League. The Bills’ anticipation of Cousineau donning their colors quickly turned into disbelief as he ventured north. The decision pivoted the draft’s focus to contractual negotiations and player leverage, setting stage for more savvy business dealings in future drafts.

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Apart from the top picks, the draft’s overarching theme was the emphasis on value across all rounds. Standouts like Kellen Winslow and Dan Hampton were selected later in the first round but proved their worth with careers that would eventually lead them to Canton. Teams learned that stars could be found beyond the hyped early selections, reinforcing the importance of comprehensive scouting.

This draft year also highlighted the fact that while quarterbacks and offensive talents were game-changers, defensive players equally played pivotal roles in shaping the outcomes for their teams. A well-executed draft strategy involved a balance between these roles, with teams like the Chicago Bears benefitting from selecting cornerstone defensive players like Hampton. The Bears’ focus on defense was one of the many strategic approaches that illustrated teams’ evolving understanding of a successful draft process.

Impact on the Teams and the Sport

The 1979 NFL Draft had long-lasting implications not only for the teams but for professional football as a whole. The Pittsburgh Steelers, who were already on the path to becoming a dynasty, selected Hall of Fame defensive back Donnie Shell. This reinforced their defense and contributed to their dominance in the league, illustrating the profound impact a single draft can have on a team’s success.

On the other hand, The Buffalo Bills gambled on Tom Cousineau, the first overall pick who never played a down for them. This decision is often cited as a cautionary tale in draft history. The Bills’ missed opportunity paved the way for other teams to reevaluate their drafting strategies, emphasizing the critical need to secure players who could contribute immediately.

The drafting of Joe Montana by the San Francisco 49ers in the third round, a move that many considered a steal, drastically altered the team’s fortunes. Montana’s arrival marked the beginning of a new era for the 49ers, leading them to multiple Super Bowl victories and highlighting the importance of late-round draft picks.

Due to the outcomes of this draft, the NFL witnessed a shift towards modern scouting techniques and draft strategy. Teams began investing more resources in evaluating talent at the college level, recognizing that success on draft day could translate to championships.

The 1979 draft also shone a spotlight on the power dynamics between players and teams, particularly with Tom Cousineau’s move to the CFL. This set a precedent for future negotiations, influencing both player contracts and the free agency system. Teams had to become more strategic in their approach to player retention and contract negotiations, with the understanding that the landscape of player leverage had changed permanently.

Throughout the league, the draft’s effects were undeniable. Teams that had previously been perennial underperformers found hope in the form of impactful rookies, while established powerhouses continued to build through savvy selections. The draft’s ripple effects reshaped team strategies and the sport’s approach to talent acquisition for years to come.

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Late-Round Steals: Hidden Gems of the 1979 Draft

The 1979 NFL Draft isn’t just memorable for its first-round selections; it’s also renowned for the hidden gems that emerged in the later rounds. These late-round steals exemplify the unpredictable nature of the draft process and the inherent potential for overlooked talent to thrive in the NFL.

Joe Montana, selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the third round, stands as the quintessential example of a late-round steal transforming a franchise. His career serves as a beacon for talent scouts, illustrating that hallmarks of greatness can be found well beyond the highly-touted first-round prospects.

Other notable late-round picks included Theo Bell and Dwight Clark. Bell, picked by Pittsburgh in the fourth round, played a crucial role in the team’s receiving corps and special teams. Clark, drafted in the 10th round by the 49ers, famously caught the winning touchdown pass in the 1981 NFC Championship Game, a play now revered as “The Catch.”

The late rounds also produced standout talents such as:

  • Phil Simms, plucked by the New York Giants in the seventh round, whose quarterbacking prowess eventually led the team to a Super Bowl victory.
  • Kellen Winslow, chosen by the San Diego Chargers not only imprinted his name in NFL history but also redefined the tight end position for future generations.

Here’s a table highlighting some extraordinary late-round picks and their round of selection:

Player Team Round Notable Achievement
Joe Montana San Francisco 49ers 3rd Future Hall of Famer, 4x SB Champ
Theo Bell Pittsburgh Steelers 4th Super Bowl Champion
Dwight Clark San Francisco 49ers 10th “The Catch”
Phil Simms New York Giants 7th Super Bowl XXI MVP


The 1979 NFL Draft remains a testament to the unpredictability and potential of late-round picks. Players like Joe Montana, Theo Bell, and Dwight Clark serve as prime examples of how talent can emerge from any draft position to leave an indelible mark on the league. Their success stories underscore the importance of thorough scouting and the reality that a player’s impact on the game can far exceed the expectations set on draft day. As teams continue to search for the next superstar in each draft class, the 1979 draft stands as a reminder that sometimes the most significant players are those who wait patiently for their names to be called.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who was Joe Montana drafted by in the 1979 NFL Draft?

Joe Montana was drafted in the third round by the San Francisco 49ers.

Which late-round pick from the 1979 Draft had a significant impact on their team?

Theo Bell and Dwight Clark were notable late-round picks that made significant contributions to their teams.

Was Phil Simms a late-round pick in the 1979 NFL Draft?

Yes, Phil Simms was selected in a later round of the 1979 NFL Draft.

Did any of the late-round picks from the 1979 Draft have successful careers?

Yes, several late-round picks like Joe Montana, Phil Simms, and Kellen Winslow had successful NFL careers.

What is the main theme of the article about the 1979 NFL Draft?

The main theme is the unpredictable nature of the draft process and the potential for overlooked talent to succeed in the NFL.

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