Johnathan Sullivan: Honorable Mention (NFL)

Synopsis: Going into the 2003 NFL Draft, most experts ranked Georgia DT Johnathan Sullivan as the 3rd or 4th best defensive lineman. Based on the importance of the position, they still considered him a mid-1st round pick. Regardless, the New Orleans Saints packaged TWO mid-1st round picks (#17 and #18) in order to move up and take him 6th overall. During his three-year career, Sullivan recorded 56 tackles and 1.5 sacks. With those numbers, he certainly qualifies as a bust. However, I couldn’t include him as a Top 10 Bust because he lacked the pedigree typical of such a high pick. As discussed in a previous post, I established the Troy Williamson Exemption for this exact reason. Then again, it’s hard to overlook Sullivan’s horrendous NFL production so I granted him an Honorable Mention.


As a defensive tackle coming out of Georgia, Johnathan Sullivan earned praise for his physical strength and relentless effort. At the same time, analysts argued that he lacked speed and needed to work on exploiting his opponent’s weaknesses. Overall, the player showed potential but also had areas for improvement.

Throughout his college career, Sullivan developed steadily. In particular, the following table summarizes his stats for the Bulldogs. 

Year Games Tackles Tackles for Loss / Yards Sacks / Yds Lost Recovered Fumbles INTs QB Pressures
2000 10 34 3 / 18 1 / 8 2 1 9
2001 11 46 8 / 24 4 / 18 0 3 15
2002 14 74 18 / 65 4 / 47 1 0 29
Totals 35 154 29 / 107 9 / 53 3 4 53

As a junior in 2002, Sullivan earned a selection to the 1st Team SEC. Of note, he recorded 18 tackles for a loss and 29 QB pressures that year. Perhaps giving a fair assessment of his player, Georgia’s defensive line coach commented that Sullivan should be a likely 2nd round pick. However, the coach followed up by saying, “If he has a great combine workout, he’s a definite first-rounder.” Apparently, Sullivan did just that because his draft stock elevated after the combine.

At 6’3″ and 310 lbs, Sullivan certainly had the size to play in the trenches. While he may have looked slow on film, he silenced his critics when he ran the 40-yard dash in 5.1 seconds at the combine. Apparently, Sullivan had his drop-the-mic moment because he skipped all the other events at the annual beauty pageant. Too bad because he would have have killed the bathing suit competition.

Tom Brady the anti- Johnathan Sullivan
Brady participating in the bathing suit competition at the 2000 NFL Combine.  Perhaps low scores from the Russian judge led to his 6th round selection.
Wow, Tom has shaped up since college. Gisele looks pretty good too.

The New Orleans Saints must have agreed with Sullivan’s self-assessment because they gave up two mid-1st round picks for the right to move up and take him. Specifically, the team traded its 17th, 18th and 54th overall picks for the Arizona Cardinals’ 6th, 37th, and 102nd overall picks. On face value, the trade might have worked. Then again, I wouldn’t be mentioning it on this site if it had. 


To start, the Saints received players with a total Weighted Average Value (WAV) of 83.

  • #6 overall pick (DT Sullivan) – 36 games / 16 starts / 1.5 sacks / WAV of 10.
  • #37 overall pick (OL Jon Stinchcomb) –  90 games / 80 starts / WAV of 44.
  • #102 pick (OL Montrae Holland) – 99 games / 60 starts / WAV of 29.

In turn, the Arizona Cardinals received players with a total WAV of 163.

  • #17 overall pick (WR Bryant Johnson) – 314 receptions / 3,938 yds / 16 touchdowns / WAV of 25
  • #18 overall pick (DE/LB Calvin Pace) – 19 forced fumbles / 10 fumble recoveries / three interceptions / WAV of 62.
  • #54 overall pick (WR Anquan Boldin) – 857 receptions / 11,334 yards / 65 touchdown / three Pro Bowls / WAV of 76

Then again, the trade wouldn’t have been so lopsided if the Saints had gone a different direction. Specifically, New Orleans could have taken DT Kevin Williams, LB Terrell Suggs, or DB Troy Polamalu with the 6th overall pick instead and evened the trade. Generally, I question the prognostic ability of analysts like Mel Kiper Jr., but he could have helped the Saints in this case.


Player (Position)

Actual Pick Kiper’s Rating Kiper’s Pre-Draft Comments Pro Bowls

Weighted Average Value

 Johnathan Sullivan (DT)

#6 #19 Solid combine / 18 tackles for a loss 0 10
Kevin Williams (DT) #9 #16 Brings skill and versatility to defensive line 6


Terrell Suggs Jr. (LB)

#10 #6 NCAA single-season record of 24 sacks 6 88
Troy Polamalu (DB) #16 #14 One of top true 10-15 players in draft 8


Note: Suggs apparently had a lackluster performance at the combine so his draft stock dropped. In contrast, Sullivan had a strong performance so his draft stock rose. When will GMs realize the combine can be deceiving? In case you’re on the fence, don’t forget the previous reference to Brady’s poor combine performance.

Johnathan Sullivan Kneeling
Image taken from Johnathan Sullivan’s highlight reel

Unlike the other available defensive players, Sullivan never made a Pro Bowl. Furthermore, he finished his career with only 1.5 sacks and 1 forced fumble in 36 games (16 starts). In contrast, DT Kevin Williams (whom many considered a better prospect going into the draft) still plays in the NFL and has 60 sacks in 171 games (171 starts). On an absolute and a relative basis, Sullivan was a complete bust.

[As an update, Williams played through the 2015-16 season before retiring. In his final two years in the league, he recorded three sacks and two forced fumbles in 32 games (24 starts). Basically, Williams did more as a player in his mid-thirties than Sullivan did in his early twenties.] 

Interestingly, the trade involving Sullivan served as a bookend for one of the worse trades in team sports. In particular, he can be connected to the Saints’ 1999 draft-day trade for Ricky Williams. As detailed in one of my first posts, Williams needed to be as productive as Peyton Manning for the trade to make sense.

With respect to the trades connecting Ricky and Johnathan:

  •  In 1999, Saints GM Mike Ditka traded the team’s entire draft to move up seven spots to take the Heisman-winning running back out of Texas.
  • In 2002, New Orleans decided to part ways with Williams in return for two 1st round picks.
    • Williams averaged 1,000 yards and five touchdowns per year during his three seasons with the Saints.
    • He rushed for 1,800 yards and 16 touchdowns for Miami in the season following the trade.
  • In 2003, the Saints used one of those two picks (#18 overall) as part of a package to move up and draft Sullivan . 

Despite my assessment of Sullivan, I just can’t call him a Top 10 Bust. Most importantly, the Saints drafted him well ahead of where the “experts” thought he would go. As a questionable pick based on his on-field accomplishments, Sullivan deserves the Troy Williamson Exemption. Regardless, his abject failure as an NFL player still warrants an Honorable Mention.

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